Freedom of Information Act. Last Monday, Elkin Richardson hosted the Hon Chief Minister on his radio call-in programme “To the Point”. He treated him with all the respect that is his due as the head of our government. At no time did Elkin or any of the callers challenge the Hon Chief Minister, even when he said the most outrageous thing.
One particular exchange caused me concern. It is the subject of this post. Elkin asked the Chief Minister if he did not think it was time for the introduction of a Freedom of Information Act. The Chief Minister sounded as if he had been stunned by this question. He eventually replied with words to the following effect. “But, Elkin, you know that my government does not censure the news. Any radio or any newspaper in
The first point is that an FOI Act does not guarantee freedom of the press or freedom from censureship. That freedom is already guaranteed by law. The Constitution contains in section 11 all the guarantee of freedom of expression that we will ever need. We do not need an FOI Act to give that to us.
Freedom of information legislation is also sometimes called “open records” law. In the
What FOI legislation does is to alter the burden of proof. Any citizen can find out what is on any file in which he is interested. The burden of proving that the matter should be kept confidential rests on the person who argues that it must be kept confidential. The assumption is that the public has a right to all information kept by government. You have the basic right to ask for and to obtain the information. You do not even have to give a reason why you want the document. But, if the information is not disclosed, a valid reason has to be given. If the reason is unacceptable, you can take it to court for the court to rule on it.
In many countries with FOI legislation, “privacy” or “data protection” laws may be part of the freedom of information legislation.
A related concept is “open meetings” legislation. This allows public access to government meetings, not just to the records of them. In some
Under our present system, each public servant swears an oath under the Official Secrets Act on becoming a public servant. It is this oath which is probably the cause of the problem that this legislation seeks to cure. By this oath of secrecy, the civil servant essentially swears never to reveal to anyone any matter that he or she learns about in the course of his or her duties. Everything in government becomes secret. This secrecy is then used as a cover for committing acts of prejudice and injustice upon the ordinary citizen. A public servant can put a false and prejudicial note on anyone’s file that will forever stop that person from progressing, in the sure knowledge that the victim will never get to find out about it. The result is that the island is overrun by half-crazed theories about what is going on in government.
I hope that the next time Elkin asks about the Freedom of Information Act, he will not be satisfied with an answer that is completely unrelated to the question.
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